Interview with a London Theatre Student: Emily Duncan

Hey guys! So just proving once again what a small world it is, a HWS faculty member Professor Christopher Hatch emailed me the other day saying one of his old students was going to school at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. He also went on to recommend the show that this student, a Ms. Emily Duncan, was performing in April.

Obviously, I took this recommendation to heart and decided to not only buy a ticket, but also to see if I could interview Emily and post it for you all to read! Emily was lovely enough to oblige, so we sat down one evening at the Hampstead Theatre (oddly enough where I saw “I Know How I Feel About Eve”) and, as the English say, had a bit of a chat.

A little background information on Emily. Emily always knew she wanted to be an actress. She tried really hard to appease her parents and find a “solid” career out of her theatre major. She tried lighting, stage design, etc, but nothing compared to her love for performing. Emily originally went to school to study theatre at the University of Kent before she traveled abroad to the University of Indiana Bloomington (where she met Prof. Hatch!). After completing her undergrad, she took a year off and landed her first professional acting job, playing a ‘mean girl,’ in the production “The Dark Room” at the New Diorama Theatre. Once her year was up, Emily started applying to Drama schools and ended up at Central School of Speech and Drama; a one year MA program. When I sat down with Emily, she was a few months away from graduating and was working very hard on her role in “The Broken Heart.”

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A: What is your dream role?

E: I used to relate more to roles like Juliet. But now that I have been studying and exploring different roles that are out of my comfort zone, I would say I’d want to play something like Lady Macbeth.

A: What is your favorite show you’ve seen and why?

E: War Horse. It has a lot of physicality and movement. I also like the storytelling element and use of puppetry.

*(We discussed this question further and I learned that Emily is trained in dance and gymnastics and that is why she relates to well to the movement in performances)

A: What is your favorite genre or role of theatre to play and/watch?

E: I like shows that are so human that you go, “oh fuck.”  You can feel that. I like to be able to see where actors find things in the role; strength vs. vulnerability, etc. There’s this one show on the BBC called “Business Wives” and there is this mother of a son in prison. Her emotions are typically locked in. And then there’s this scene in a car with her next-door neighbors son, talking about husbands memory and all of a sudden her face is lit up. I like all roles, no particular one. It just needs to be a good performance.

A: Tell me about your school here.

E: Central is a school well known for speech training. It has kind of always been a school I wanted to go to. I’ve been looking since I was 16 years old and applying to University of Kent.

A: What are auditions like?

E: The Central audition process was welcoming and really put you at ease with warm ups. The tutors were nice and worked with you on your monologues. Central asked for two monologues; one classical and one contemporary. There would be a warm-up in the morning, they’d have us do our monologues and then they would give us direction and have us do it again. Then later on they interviewed us.  Most schools will have you pick a modern and classical piece, but not all will work with you on them, or make you feel as at ease that Central does.

A: Any advice for the audition process?

E: You have to know why you are there. The programs are very tough. The pace is fast. There is a lot of learning about how to self-reflect and its both physical and emotionally draining. The benefit is that you become really close to your company. Acting isn’t pretending, it’s being as honest as you can. You have to engage in political and social issues and you have to care.  Also, choose a piece you love doing so it is easy to work with and fun to do. Most importantly, be yourself.

A: What was the process of getting your first agent?

E: I got an agent before applying to Central. It was actually right after coming back from studying in America. I did a lot of research and some agents have open books so you contact them. I emailed them with a headshot and letter. Then I auditioned for them at Spotlight’s headquarters in Leicester Square. They must have liked it because after that, they accepted me as their client.

A: What type of things are you studying?

E: The first term is very intensive. You have movement, voice, and acting classes from 9-6 every day. We’ve also learned period dances like the Jive and the Merenge and useful tools like stage combat.

A: What’s the play about?

E: It’s called “The Broken Heart” and it was a play written in the 1600s. It is a renaissance piece with a baroque style. It was one of the first feminist plays. It’s all about repression of women in that society. Basically, the King is dying and the story focuses on the political marriages that happen during this precarious time. One of the women is the ‘Broken Heart.’

A: Tell me a little about your role…

E: I play, Euphrenia, the daughter to advisor of the king. She is married off in a political move by her brother and father. She is the youngest in the play, at only 14 years old.  I think she is a really repressed character.

A: How much time was involved working on this play?

E: A lot. I even do more reading at home after rehearsal to go over things and think about what has happened during the day’s rehearsal.

A: What was a particularly hard/easy scene to work on?

E: I have one big scene when Euphrenia sneaks away into the garden to meet a soldier. Me and the other actor are playing all the time with how they feel about each other. There’s also an added funny element. There’s a lot going on.

A: What are your plans after this play?

E: The Company has one week off, then we come back and go into more classes. In May, we have a showcase where we perform a 4-minute scene for casting directors and agents. After that, we have our last show and we’re done with classes by July.

A: A lot of the times we hear about actresses under pressure to be thin and perfect looking. How does this affect you?

E: I definitely see the pressure to be thin in London. In this business it helps to be beautiful and physically attractive. Acting is a lot of movement work, working on your body, letting go of habits and learning why you have these habits. It’s about accepting yourself. I’m never going to be the blonde model, but I can do parts that she can’t do.

A: Do you feel these pressures from your professors at school?

E: Professors wont bring it up. It’s not about looking good, it’s about acting. Drama school is not training people to pose in front of cameras, it is teaching people how to act.

A: What are your plans after graduation?

E: To get an amazing agent and work. Maybe earn money at home while working with an agent. I hope to move to London permanently and work here. Me and a couple of friends from school are also starting a theatre company and are planning to do a show in the fall.

A: Any advice for young actors trying to figure out what schools to go to or whether to forego school and try their luck in the city?

E: I highly recommend drama school. It’s great to learn about acting, and yourself, and life and everything, because you’re around such wonderful teachers. Some people at the school might not even want to be actors. But it’s still a great place to be and learn things about yourself as a person.

Review of the show to follow!

~A

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